Friday 16 February 2024


maria ugwoke
On a certain blessed day in 1953, a daughter was born to the family of Mr. John (popularly called Madu Ukwungwu) and Mrs. Theresa (Mama Cos)who were from Ajuona Orba and Owerre-Eze Orba respectively. In their joy, the couple named their daughter "Nwakaego" meaning that "a child is of more value than wealth". Her father was thenceforth ,  known by everyone in their community as "Papa Nwaka". The bond between father and daughter was indeed strong. Young Nwaka grew under the loving care of family, nuclear and extended. When she came of age, she went to live with her uncle Gilbert who was a teacher at Utonkom, Benue State, and there she started primary school.

As a result of the pogrom of Ndigbo which started in May, 1966, Gilbert was forced to flee from Benue State with his family which included young Nwaka Maria back to Ajuona Orba to escape death. As the war raged on, Maria joined the choir in her local church. This choir was so effective that even pagans started going to church just to listen to the beautiful and hope - inspiring renditions of the choir. There too, Maria was so talented that she was named "queen of the young choristers" by their choirmaster. At the end of the civil war which followed the Igbo massacre, Nwakaego completed her primary education at  Central School, Ajuona Orba and gained admission into Queen of the Rosary Secondary School in Nsukka, to the delight of her father, Papa Nwaka. Madu's decision to send her daughter to a secondary school was met with heavy criticism from family and friends. It's worthy to mention that people back then were mostly illiterate and ignorant. People had little value for education, especially the education of a girl child. They believed it would render a girl "useless/wayward", not to mention that it was waste of time and resources since such training would only be wasted in the kitchen in husband's house. Papa Nwaka had a different belief.

One fine morning, he got on his brand new Raleigh bicycle ( those were not common those days, it was like owning a Benz today)and cycled off to Queen of the Rosary Secondary School. At the gate he stopped and stood there watching the students (who were all girls) coming and going. A gateman approached him to know if he needed help.

Gateman: "good morning sir"

Papa Nwaka: "good morning my son."

Gateman: "do you need something in the school?"

Papa Nwaka: "tell me, are these girls all students here?"

Gateman: "yes sir."

Papa Nwaka: "and they are all people's children?"

Gateman (smiling)"yes of course."

Papa Nwaka: " thank you very much." He said to himself as he mounted his bicycle and rode away, "if all those girls turn out useless because of education, let my own daughter turn out useless too."

He went home and told Nwaka to start preparing to move to the school.

This was to be a decisive and visionary piece of good judgement as Nwaka turned out to be a trail blazer for other young people in her family and the whole community. As a result of Papa Nwaka's example, the negative attitude towards education in the community reduced drastically as parents became more open to sending their children to school. Maria Nwakaego made her father proud when she graduated from secondary and went on to gain admission into the Teachers' Training College, Nsukka where she was trained to be a teacher. She graduated and got a teaching job with the defunct Anambra state Government (Enugwu and Ebonyi states had not been created then). In later years, Maria also was a major contributor to the education of all her younger siblings.

In 1978, she met and married her late husband, Mr. Joseph Ugwoke. The marriage was blessed with five boys and a girl. Two of the boys however, were lost to sickle cell disease. Her marriage to late Joseph was one of great understanding and unity of purpose. It was a union of soulmates. Their relationship was a perfect example of the biblical "and the two shall become one" of Mark10:8.

In 1984, her love for education took Maria to the University of Jos in Plateau State where she obtained further certification in Education.

In 1992 however, two months after the birth of her last baby and only daughter, tragedy struck. Joseph died after a brief illness. It was a major blow to Maria. The grief was almost unbearable but she had to remain strong for her 4 young children. From her meagre earning as a primary school teacher, Maria was able to turn those four little children that were left to her to professionals - one Geologist, one Surveyor, an Engineer and a fully qualified NHS Nurse. Quite an achievement, by any standard.

Now, tragedy has struck yet again. Just six months after her trip to the United Kingdom to see her new granddaughter, Maria has been taken from us. When we pray for long life, it's pertinent to ask; how long is long enough? Jesus Christ died at 33 but he made more impact than Melchizedek who lived thousands of years. Yes, we would have loved to have Maria with us much longer than this but we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that she fought a good fight, won the race and is now resting in the bosom of the Lord. She died as a retired headmistress. At different times in her life, Maria was an influencial member of the church council, the Catholic Women Organisation and the community where she lived.The baton has been passed to as many as knew her.

She was survived by four children, eight grand children, a brother and four sisters.

Goodbye! Great woman, till we meet to part no more.

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